Since 2008 when Bossier City government implemented significant budget constraints, every department has found ways to scale back costs while providing largely the same level of service previous to funding cuts.
As highlighted two weeks ago in this space, the city’s Fire Department leadership has worked diligently to cut personnel costs, and still maintain the city’s excellent fire and EMS safety record. But according to Fire Chief Brad Zagone, the effort to reduce departmental operating costs isn’t limited to his office, it’s a whole department effort.
An example: a change in the Fire Department’s laundry service saves the city about $65,000 per year.
“We traded our laundry service for firefighters – that was actually Councilman (David) Montgomery’s idea,” Zagone explained.
Zagone said the laundry service change suggestion came from the firefighter’s union. “For a $30,000 investment, we were able to retrofit every station with washers and dryers … now they (firefighters) wash their own laundry (towels, sheets, etc.) at the end of their tour, which is every other day …”
And the savings added up to enough to add two firefighters to the department.
Another savings was found in reducing the Fire Department’s overtime budget. Zagone said that when he was appointed Fire Chief in 2011, the department was budgeted for $300,000 for overtime.
“We cut it to $150,000 in 2012 and we cut it to $80,000 in 2013. And I believe we left it at $80,000 in 2014 just in case we have a flood or something like that. But we actually spent, last year, right around $30,000 in overtime.”
Zagone and Deputy Chief Steve Pennell also discussed the importance of matching the equipment and vehicles to the department’s needs and budget. A firefighting vehicle change at the Shady Grove Fire Station is south Bossier allowed Zagone to reduce the number of firefighters there – but left the station with the same fire fighting capability. The department’s new CNG-fueled EMS vehicle will produce substantial savings in fuel costs and maintenance over time.
“We watch how we do things … it helps us on manning and keeping the trucks manned,” Zagone said. “Instead of me trying to man this truck we’re not using, I can use those guys in other areas to man trucks that we are using.”
Zagone pointed out that reducing the number of administrative positions has paid off as well and cited an example of one eliminated position the cost of which would pay for two firefighters.
“And that’s what I need – firefighters on the bottom,” Zagone said, noting that reducing costs in other areas allowed him to put more “firefighters back on the trucks, and that’s what’s important – the guys responding to the citizens.”
On cutting overtime costs, Zagone explained: “Instead of us calling in overtime (personnel) … I can go ride a rescue truck, I can ride an ambulance … I pull guys out of administrative positions …”
Zagone also said volunteers to fill slots when a firefighter is sick or in training are numerous.
“My idea behind this is — you originally got hired to be a firefighter. We didn’t hire you to be … a chief of special operations or a fire prevention officer … you were originally hired as a firefighter, then you worked your way up and got those positions. But never forget your roots or where you come from — and that’s the way we look at it … It doesn’t matter if I don’t sit here one day (in the chief’s office) but what does matter is that the truck doesn’t go out there on that scene when somebody calls 911, because we had to shut that truck down because we didn’t have enough people or ran out of
Zagone, who does not spend much time behind the desk in his office recounted a recent example of that “always a firefighter” mindset.
“We were sitting in an EMT refresher course the other day … I wasn’t working or anything, I was the Fire Chief … and they called a run. They ran out of trauma units. Well one guy was going to have to leave (the course) and we had hired a lawyer to teach an important part of that class, so we (Zagone and the training officer) jumped on the ambulance and took the run, took the patient to the hospital – we’re both paramedics – and we took care of the patient, took care of the report – and they didn’t miss the class.”
As previously noted, every city department took a hit with budget cuts – but it appears that at least the Bossier City Fire Department has found ways to further reduce expenses, continue providing the excellent service it’s known for, and operate from a mindset of dedication that we should all celebrate.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org